Reviews

Cassadaga

Author: Sarah Feldman
04/11/2007 | Atristdirect.com | www.artistdirect.com | Album Review
On your average Bright Eyes album, the music is secondary. It doesn't matter whether the band is playing country or electronica, blues-rock or bedroom folk—the real center of attention is always lead singer Conor Oberst's quavery, high-intensity vocals. But with Cassadaga, the band's sixth full-length, Oberst seems to have finally accepted the advice of his critics to take things a bit easier—and his tremulous vocals cede the spotlight.

The first track, "Clairaudients," a soundscape cobbled out of various voices advising the protagonist about his future, promises an epic journey that never quite materializes. By contrast, the successful lead single, "Four Winds," is a foot-stompingly fun ramble toward end-times that evokes the apocalyptic brilliance of Lifted's "From a Balance Beam" or I'm Wide Awake's "At the Bottom of Everything." Here, the vocals and instrumentation finally go hand-in hand as the sawing fiddles and over-bright guitars follow Oberst's careening lead.

Yet, the rest of the album is less about roaming than looking for home, "a place to level out." The themes are standard Americana fodder, the sort of thing codified by Springsteen and Van Zandt, and in their wiser moments, Dylan and Cohen: the scaled-down hopes and failures of domestic life, the longing for something simple and clear—fruit trees, a good woman.

The mantle doesn't fit Oberst yet—one doesn't quite believe in his authority, at age 27, to speak with this world-weary voice. But Cassadaga does give the sense of a new direction, and some promise that "rock's boy-genius" may yet find his creative footing in life after adolescence.
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